Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Donnie Yen's award tour + Wu Xia screening - NYAFF2012

Day 11 of the New York Asian Film Festival was a night for honoring special guest Donnie Yen with the Star Asia Award for his kickass contributions to the film industry.  Before I proceed to give you an un-report of the night, I want to throw a big dirty Chinatown shoutout to the BULLETS OVER CHINATOWN blog! This Long Island gwailo - a true HK film junky with a deadly venom specialty in the CAT III realm was gracious enough to give me his ticket for the award ceremony event + the screening of WU XIA. If you like fun, no-nonsense, punk rock like reporting on HK films and his chinatown excursions, you know where to go!  

Back to Donnie - when I first saw Yen in Drunken Tai Chi and then again in his breakdance-fu comedy - Mismatched Couples in 1985, I was an instant fan. His charm, his style, his moves were all something to strive for. Donnie’s mother - Master Bow Sim Mark would always be featured in a magazine that I used to troll called INSIDE KUNG FU.  Mentions and then full out articles of Donnie Yen and his sister Christine Yen would surface about their martial art prowess in tournaments. That would be the grassroots of Donnie Yen’s career! Fast forward to last night and countless films since 1984, NYAFF presented him with a Star Asia Award for excellence in the film industry! Well deserved and long overdue! The Award Ceremony was pretty uneventful as Yen waltzed on the stage to loud clapping but no standing ovation. This event seemed to house less of a fans fan crowd for Donnie Yen with more of a vibe of it’s the Star Asia Award Ceremony and we must go. Either way, the show was sold out and everyone was happy to be there! Congratulations and a big Wong Kei Ying fist bump to Yen Chi-Don for entertaining us with his films & martial art skills for many more years to come!

The screening of Wu Xia was a mixed bag for me. As an action fan, I was a bit disappointed. Now, the fight scenes that were in the film were amazing and took my breath away especially when Kara Hui Ying Hong took the stage with that evil femme fatale look as she had the eye of the tiger to make minced meat out of Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen). Another great fight scene involved the twisted-maniacal Master played by HK Shaw Brother veteran actor Jimmy Wang Yu vs Liu Jinxi (Donnie), a former student of his.  Yen directed the action and the sequences were no doubt explosive but the fight scenes seemed few and far in-between. With the name of the film labeled as WU XIA, I was definitely expecting a wall to wall blowout of traditional wu-shu on the screen.

Just as a background and skinny on the film without spoilers, Liu Jinxi (Donnie Yen) is a paper maker who lives with his wife and two kids in a quiet village in the Yunnan province of China. One day this quiet village would get turned upside down as two stone cold killers would attempt to rob/extort money from a local store. Somehow, the innocent and supposed martial art-less Liu Jinxi ends up killing the two robbers by luck.  Xu Baiju (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is a crime investigator who bit by bit - step by step in CSI style would try to prove otherwise as the story does not seem to add up. Xu Baiju seems overly obsessive with this assignment but as he digs deeper and deeper, he will unearth the truth that will unleash the demons!   

Now to take the action disappointment or lack of through most of the movie aside, the dramatic performance by Donnie Yen who has to act in a certain persona throughout one half of the movie and the CSI skills and crime playbacks in his mind with Takeshi Kaneshiro’s character as he assembles the pieces of the puzzle together was on-point!  Now for Donnie to pretend he doesn’t know martial arts and to act as a commoner is pretty dramatic in my mind.  On hindsight, this film is worth exploring with an open mind as the word drama should appear before action when describing this film.  Forget that you are watching a typical Donnie Yen movie and forget about the Wu Xia movie title.  

The brief Q&A session with Donnie Yen after the screening was very revealing as well. We learned that the One Armed Swordsman movie starring Wang Yu had no direct influences with the story in this movie. Peter Chan - the director of Wu Xia does not have an action background so Donnie believes that brought a fresh outlook on the dramatic element of the film. When asked who was his favorite collaborator in films he cited he loves the different flavors that other actors bring to the table. He mentioned that Jet Li, Jackie Chan, & Sammo were some of his favorite on-screen collaborators. As far as turning down the EXPENDABLES 2 role, Donnie mentioned that he didn’t feel the role was intriguing enough. He was flattered that he was approached by the producers but did not see a fit. Donnie said that working on a movie is a stressful thing. You spend months working on a project and he wants to make sure he does something that he really likes and feels passionate about. Other fun questions for the audience included what is your favorite martial art style? Donnie’s answer - he doesn’t have a favorite style. He likes them all. Another question was what was your favorite birthday gift? Answer - when my wife - Celcilia Wang surprised me with a birthday party at a poolhall that I partially own in HK. The surprise guests were about 1/3 of the Hong Kong film industry including Sandra Ng and Leon Lai! They were all holding up glowsticks and signs - WE LOVE DONNIE just like those signs that Justin Bieber has at his concerts!

I guess we can refer to Donnie Yen as just THE DONNIE now!

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